Alternative Treatments for ADHD

Brindusa Vanta, MD, DHMHS
Medical editor

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Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by a pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. Traditional treatments typically include medication and behavioral therapy. However, some people seek alternative treatments due to concerns regarding medication side effects, a desire for a holistic approach, or when traditional methods don't suffice.

ADHD Alternative Treatments Overview


Alternative treatments for ADHD include the following:

  • Nutrition/Diet: Adjust dietary habits to increase the intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats while reducing junk food. The Feingold diet, which eliminates certain additives and foods, is reported by some parents to reduce ADHD symptoms, though medical consensus is lacking.
  • Dietary Supplements: Supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), magnesium, iron, and vitamin B6 may be beneficial in managing ADHD symptoms. Research is mixed or limited, and consultation with a healthcare provider is recommended.
  • Attend (Nutritional Supplement): The main active ingredients in this supplement are homeopathic remedies. Despite anecdotal support, there is limited scientific evidence to back its efficacy for ADHD.
  • Herbal Supplements: Ginkgo biloba and American Ginseng have shown potential in small studies for improving ADHD symptoms, but more research is necessary to confirm these findings.
  • Mild Stimulants: Caffeine and theobromine are considered milder alternatives to prescription ADHD medications, with varying degrees of effectiveness reported.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) presents significant challenges through its core symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, affecting academic achievement, social interactions, and daily functioning. Many individuals and families concerned about the side effects of conventional medications and seeking a more holistic approach turn to alternative treatments. These nontraditional strategies, ranging from dietary changes to herbal supplements, offer the potential for managing ADHD symptoms while aligning with personal health philosophies and preferences for natural interventions.

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Dr. Brindusa Vanta, MD, says, "Improving diet and lifestyle is beneficial for everyone, including those with ADHD. While research on supplements may find mixed results, you know that nutrition is key to your health. Vitamins B, C, and D, minerals like magnesium and zinc, and omega-3s (particularly DHA) are important for brain function. Focus on improving the diet first, and consult a doctor specialized in nutrition before incorporating supplements."


Eating a healthy, nutritious diet (e.g., decreasing junk food while increasing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats) can benefit all children.

Many nutritionists and alternative healers believe that following the Feingold diet can lead to a significant reduction of ADHD symptoms. However, the traditional Western medical profession dismisses the Feingold diet as being misguided and overstated with regard to treating ADHD. Nevertheless, many parents of children with ADHD who have tried this program say that it is helpful and continue to live by the restrictions.

Consulting a physician before making dramatic changes to a child's diet is recommended.

As Dr. Brindusa Vanta, MD, says, "A scientific study published in 2011 in the Journal of Attention Disorders evaluated dietary patterns and ADHD in adolescents. The 'Western' diet, which is based on processed foods and lacks essential nutrients, had been linked to ADHD diagnosis, while the 'Healthy' diet showed no association. The study concluded that a  Western-style diet may be associated with ADHD."

One homeopathic (natural medicine) remedy for ADHD is called Attend. The key active ingredients of this natural supplement are homeopathic remedies. Therefore, a healthcare professional specializing in homeopathy would be the best person to provide information about this product and whether it can benefit a child with ADHD.

Vitamin B6:
In the 1980s, vitamin B6 was promoted as a helpful remedy for children with learning difficulties, including inattentiveness. Since that time, there have been several studies showing some symptom improvement for young people with ADHD. However, the studies are small, and the results are not dramatic enough to move this treatment into the mainstream arena. Despite this lack of research, alternative practitioners emphasize the benefits of B6 and other B vitamins for brain health and recommend these vitamins to manage ADHD.

Iron levels tend to be low in individuals with ADHD. Some research suggests that iron supplements can help reduce the symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention; however, these studies were small. More research is needed to better understand the link between ADHD and iron deficiency. It is best to consult with a physician if you decide to supplement with iron, as there is a risk of developing problems with excessive iron intake, such as nausea, vomiting, and low blood sugar.

Magnesium may also positively impact ADHD symptoms. Given the benefit of magnesium to the body and the fact that it has an excellent safety profile, it is worth consulting a doctor to learn more about it and the optimal doses needed to manage ADHD. Based on some research studies, ADHD is associated with magnesium deficiency.

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (oils):
These include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found primarily in fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon, as well as some plants. Although they are required for proper body functioning, research studies have found that the therapeutic levels to manage ADHD are higher than can easily be achieved through diet alone. These oils are used as supplements to help manage an array of conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and arthritis.

EPA and DHA:
EPA and DHA play a role in brain development and function. Although preliminary research shows that children with ADHD have low levels of EPA and DHA, the results of using these supplements to treat children with ADHD have been mixed. However, given the clear need for these oils and the low likelihood of getting sufficient amounts through diet, many alternative practitioners recommend routinely supplementing these nutrients, particularly with children who have ADHD. Whether or not supplementation with omega 3 actually positively affects individuals with ADHD remains to be confirmed in larger studies.

Mild Stimulants:
For some people with ADHD,  mild stimulants such as caffeine and theobromine (a bitter chemical from the cocoa plant and present in chocolate) have similar effects to the more powerful drugs commonly used in treating ADHD. Data suggests that caffeine can improve the function of children with ADHD. However, the reaction may be mild, and the response is a bit unpredictable given that dosage levels may vary across products and time (It's hard to regulate exactly how much caffeine is in one brewed cup of coffee.). Some parents have resorted to using over-the-counter stimulants that indicate caffeine levels, while others are concerned about the relatively higher dosages present in these drugs.

Herbal Supplements:
Supplements such as ginkgo biloba have also been used to treat the symptoms of ADHD. One study cited positive results with a combination of Ginkgo (ginkgo biloba) and American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) to treat children with ADHD. Ginkgo has been used to improve memory and decrease anxiety, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, and other symptoms of dementia in older adults. Ginseng tends to have a stimulant effect and may work similarly to caffeine and stimulant medication in individuals with ADHD. Noticeable improvement in attention and distractibility occurred in children and adolescents with ADHD after 4 weeks of using a supplemental Ginkgo/Ginseng combination. More research is needed to confirm these promising results before Ginkgo and Ginseng become common treatments for ADHD.

Making Informed ADHD Treatment Choices

In navigating ADHD treatment options, embracing a balanced approach is crucial. Alternative treatments can complement traditional therapies, offering additional pathways to manage symptoms when tailored to individual needs. However, it's also essential to weigh these options with a critical eye toward scientific evidence and safety. We encourage those exploring alternative treatments for ADHD to consult healthcare professionals, ensuring choices are informed by reliable research and clinical expertise. Embracing evidence-based decision-making fosters the best outcomes, aligning treatment strategies with personal health goals and the unique challenges of ADHD.

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